With a proud history of pushing for change associated with third-level students, Dylan O’Neill speaks to those involved in student activism.

Third level education is seen as place where students go to continue their journey on the road to employment. That’s what it is marketed as. However, what you may not see and what is often omitted from the advertisements, is the work that groups undertake to bring about change at local and national levels. Traditionally, students have been the first group to come together with a voice and are frequently referred to as the ‘voices for change’.

Across many third level institutions, students’ unions have been harbingers of change, promoting discussion within council between students and actively marching on issues affecting students. UCDSU President, Barry Murphy, explains that the point of activism is to give students a voice on boards that are made up of individuals who, on a university level, view it as a business or have become out of touch with student needs. As sabbatical officers have a seat on many of these university boards, their role is to ask if the decisions made, take into account reasons that may benefit students’ experience of university life.

But what is the point of constantly shouting? Is our vote not enough? According to Murphy, “if we just vote we are not helping to influence change”. Student activism is a grassroots stage of influencing change at a national level and Murphy says the reason behind this is because “young people are often the driving force of long term progressive change in Ireland”. Campaigns led by students include: the Vote4Me campaign in 2015, prior to the marriage equality referendum; the Strike4Repeal protest which saw students march to Leinster House to call for a referendum on the 8th Amendment and March4Education which was organised by students to pressure the government into investing more public funds into third-level education. Murphy highlights these as prime examples of the work carried out by students to influence change at a national level “without students these causes would not have reached their full potential in achieving needed change in Irish society.

“UCDSU currently provides funding for UCD for Choice, Consent at UCD, Students For Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and officially support the work of UCD for Prep.”

Although progress has been made with student-led lobby groups, there is still much more work involved for certain groups. For example, UCDSU currently provides funding for UCD for Choice, Consent at UCD, Students For Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and officially support the work of UCD for Prep.

Speaking with Ailish Brennan from the UCD chapter of SSDP, she describes the overall aim of the group is “to end the ‘war on drugs, because we see the fact that it hasn’t worked. People can still get drugs very readily.” Believing that the “war on drugs” campaign has led to situations where people “don’t know what they’re taking, so as a result, putting themselves in more danger.”

“I think you’d struggle to find 82% of students who have done anything else. I don’t think that amount of students even drive. That’s the amount of people who are affected by this stuff and not only are they doing stuff that is inherently risky, because they don’t know an awful lot about it.”

Citing the National Student Drug survey of 2015, which found that 82% of students surveyed admitted to having used illegal drugs at some point, Brennan says, “I think you’d struggle to find 82% of students who have done anything else. I don’t think that amount of students even drive. That’s the amount of people who are affected by this stuff and not only are they doing stuff that is inherently risky, because they don’t know an awful lot about it.” SSDP continuously tries to educate students on the risks of drug use and keeping students who do use drugs informed about the contents of certain drugs, and how to deal with the emergency services if a friend experiences a bad reaction from taking drugs.

Students in UCD who are interested in advocating for causes can get in contact with their class reps to pass mandates through student council or go directly to the Campaigns and Communications officer, Thomas Monaghan, to discuss joining the campaigns forum to work on existing campaigns or create new ones.

With the UCD chapter of SSDP having been officially founded in March of 2018, Brennan advises students who feel passionately about an issue to keep pushing for it. “You have to talk to a lot of people, you have to meet a lot of people, you have to keep at it. There was a guy who tried to set it up a few years before I did, he actually didn’t end up setting it up because, especially in UCD there is a lot of bureaucracy where you have to go through a load of different meetings.”

Another point Brennan makes is to not feel discouraged if your initial plans do not work out. “[The Societies Head] has to tell you that this doesn’t work as a society and then you have to go back to square one and then you have to meet with the Union… But don’t be put off like that and remain focused on what you want and what the issue at hand is and keep remembering why you’re doing it.”

Overall, it is important to that you “make sure you get that emotive message across as well as having a factual message, where you show it actually means something to you, there being an important message behind what you do,” as Brennan believes from her experience, that that is the best way to encourage people to follow and support your cause. “Reach people. Engage with as many people as possible. Talk to as many people as possible.”

If you are interested in the work of or wish to join Students for Sensible Drug Policy, you can email the UCD chapter at dublin@chapters.ssdp.org  or message their Facebook page UCD Students for Sensible Drug Policy.